(Visual) Notes on Culture
The Value of Artwork
Professional artists have to inflate their prices in order to make a living. While materials are/can be expensive - in anything from painting to large public sculpture - time is the real premium. Most artists have a two-faced relationship with our age of plurality. On the one had, they benefit from the themes, energy, and new territory that pluralism bring. Multicultural thought, conceptualism, and the unquestioned ability to "fuse" new styles from existing old styles are among the ammunition of today's artists. On the other hand, artists benefit from the personal and professional legacy of the Romantic "cult of the artist," a mode of thinking which privileges the established artist and everything that they touch, sometimes in a wholly uncritical and illogical manner. A perfect example comes from some of the more hurried works of Pablo Picasso. The man worked in a broad range of styles, over a long period of time, and his pedigree now means more to an inert art object than actual content. His scribbles on a napkin are far from scribbles...they are big business.
There is a boom in the international art market. Records are being broken with reckless abandon. Two days ago, this Lucien Freud
painting broke the world record for price paid for a work by a living artist. The very next day, this cabinet of curiosities
by art superstar Damien Hirst broke that very record. Neither work is earth-shattering, though Hirst's comes closest through conceptual breadth and re-appropriation of past idiom. I take these two parables as things past and things to come.
One failure of international Marxism was its overvaluation of heroes in the face of actual collective success. The people, it was thought, needed figureheads to please, aspire to, and fear. True Marxism would have collectivized and/or rendered anonymous our rampantly contradictory "cult of the artist." While Marxism did not hold the answers, its high time for a new paradigm for the plastic arts that helps render original expression in a more humble vein.
Works on Paper at the National Gallery, D.C.
Any public arts institution like the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. will constantly shift its exhibitions, a practice which pleases the patrons, curators, and donors. Armed with cultural cachet and deep pockets, this particular art-space is able to show nearly anything it wants. Realizing that I've not paid visit in a few months, I'd like to draw attention to a series of showcases that will last throughout the summer. Though not on par with some of the "blockbuster" shows they've lined up in summers past, it could prove a good chance to compare works, eras, and artists who work on that redheaded stepchild known as paper.
"CLAUDE LORRAIN - The Painter as Draftsman: Drawings from the British Museum" is reported to be the first Lorrain exhibition in the United States since 1982 (before I was born!) and combines a large selection of drawings with a few etchings and paintings. "Fabulous Journeys and Faraway Places: Travels on Paper, 1450-1700" showcases fantastic scenes by many of Europe's leading post-Renaissance artists. Though the exhibition sounds like the name of a mid-1980s jazz fusion album, it should give a good introduction to the scope of imagined scenes that pays compliment to the excellent travel writing of that era. "Private Treasures: Four Centuries of European Master Drawings" brings that beloved (dreaded?) tradition of quality to fore. The collection looks impressive and spans historical epochs, so it should be worth a visit. Finally, "States and Variations: Prints by Jasper Johns" gears for acceptance by lovers of contemporary works. Prints by Johns are always of conceptual interest, if not subtle virtuosity.
Paper is often marginalized in histories of art because of its impermanence. Egg tempura on wood, fresco, oil on canvas, stone, bronze, and glass all have the capacity to endure longer, and under less guarded circumstances. Works on paper are often small, personal, and scaled for home or private contemplation. Further, paper is often used to work through ideas before diving in to other media, and as such can vastly illuminate the creative-artistic process.